“Sometimes it’s harder to deprive oneself of a pain than of a pleasure.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night

 “Boulevard vu d’en haut,” Gustave Caillebotte
(1880; I was completely unfamiliar with this particular Caillebotte, so glad I came across it as I love it.)

                   

“My memories have turned into anxieties.” ~ Fernando Pessoa

“Le Brusq,” Lucien Pissarro (1925)

Saturday afternoon. Cloudy and windy.

I wonder if it’s possible to catch a computer virus because I’ve been flat on my back for days. Wednesday, when I tried to get back to the post, the one that never ends, the computer had a major temper tantrum, kept inserting <div> codes everywhere. Internet Explorer kept locking up, giving me those errors, even after I downloaded the most recent version. Finally, I said “Fine. You win,” and I went and watched “Criminal Minds.”

However, by Thursday morning, I knew that I was down for the count. I slept on and off for most of the day, and Friday morning, I couldn’t even get out of bed. I so hate it when this happens, when the weakness (for lack of a better term) sets in, and I am completely wiped out. To put it in terms that may help you to relate, it’s akin to recovering from a bad flu, real flu, not a cold, but the actual thing. The mind is ready to get back to normal, but the body says, I don’t think so.

Last night I had jelly legs, for want of a better term. I walked from the bedroom to the kitchen, and felt a bit like a life-sized pinball, sort of bouncing between walls. So today when I woke up and felt as if I could make it to the kitchen, I was elated. I was even elated that I had enough energy to wash the dishes, Yippee skippy!

Yes, yes. I know. Strange but true.

Now ordinarily when I feel better after being down and out, I immediately use that newfound energy to do things around the house. Today, however, I thought that before I did anything else, I’d write, just in case it’s only a temporary respite.

So where were we?

“. . . well, not even to think. To be silent; to be alone. All the being and doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others . . . Beneath it all is dark, it is all spreading, it is unfathomably deep; but now and again we rise to the surface and that is what you see us by.” ~ Virginia Woolf

“The Room of Flowers,” Frederick Childe Hassam (1894)

Ah yes . . . that open wound in my heart . . . my daughter Alexis.

I have debated over whether I should write about this, going back and forth over the whole issue of privacy—hers, not mine—hence, the snippets here and there but no details, but in the end, I decided that as long as I did not trespass into her life when writing this post, as it were, then I needed to get this off my chest in the hopes that the pain that I am carrying will not fester and turn into resentment, or possibly something worse.

I have not seen Alexis for over two months. This might not seem all that significant to many of you since she is almost 27 years old, but I should point out that she lives less than five miles from our home. She didn’t even come over for Eamonn’s birthday dinner.  And trust me when I say that I have always given her ample space and privacy as I know how it feels to be the daughter of a mother who respects no boundaries whatsoever. And it’s not that I want her at my beck and call or that I require her presence on a daily basis. None of that is true.

What is bothersome in the general sense is that her excuse for not seeing anyone or doing anything used to be that she had no vehicle. Not so any more. She has a brand spanking new Accord, quite a nice one actually. Yet it still feels as if she lives across the country.

If you were to ask me what was wrong, I really could not say for certain. Is she depressed? Probably. Is she sleeping all of the time? Probably. Is she taking her medication? Probably not. Is she doing anything to help herself? This is the big question, the one that none of us have any kind of answer to, but the reality is that until she is ready to do something, none of us can do anything.

Perhaps it’s that I’m so accustomed to intervening on her behalf for most of her life, making apologies and excuses for her apathy, her laissez-faire approach to life that to now find myself on the receiving end of her silence and disregard is irksome and unnerving.

“What is silence? Something of the sky in us.  There will be evidence, there will be evidence. Let them speak of air and its necessities. Whatever they will open, will open.” ~ Ilya Kaminsky, “Deaf Republic: 1”

However, if it were just the silence, I don’t think, no, I know that I would not be doing such a slow burn.

“Spring in Goscieradz,” Leon Wyczółkowski

It all began when her grandmother, my other m-in-law started becoming noticeably worse right after the beginning of the year. Ann and I were talking about things that we could do, especially to take some of the burden off Ann as taking care of her mother was becoming a full-time job. Ann said that if she could just get help for a few hours in the evening, it would make such a difference.

I suggested that we ask Alexis; after all, she wasn’t working, and this would be perfect. She could earn some money by spending two to three hours in the evening with her grandmother with whom she has always had a wonderful relationship, make sure she took her evening meds, ate something, put her to bed, and make sure the house was secure (as in no stove burners left on or doors left unlocked). I felt that it would also be a good way for Alexis to get back in the habit of having somewhat of a regular schedule without jumping into full-time work right away.

Ann and I both thought that it would be a win-win situation, and I thought to myself that I might even ask my ex if he could contribute a bit of funding if necessary. All that was needed was my daughter’s cooperation . . .

I called Alexis and left a message for her to call me as soon as possible. No response. The next day I left a voice mail as well as a text that she really needed to contact me regarding her grandmother. She called me the next day. I made my pitch.

Silence.

I talked a bit more about how it wouldn’t require that much of her, just a commitment to help out five evenings a week, and perhaps some weekends.

Silence.

Apparently, I was not being clear. I mean, it was actually a fairly easy proposition, not requiring that much of her time, and as she was family, my m-in-law would be more comfortable with having her in the house. Perhaps I hadn’t explained it well. So I tried again.

Silence.

Finally, I asked what the hell her problem was that she couldn’t respond. Was she not interested in helping out? Was she not interested in picking up a bit of cash? Was she not interested in working her way gradually back into a pseudo-normal state of being?

She just couldn’t commit, she responded. She wasn’t sure if she could do it every night, and what if she had other commitments? What if she got another job?

Well, I said as calmly as I could, you would have to work around it just as you would do with any other job. You wouldn’t make commitments from five to eight in the evening. And, of course, if you got another job, then that would take precedence. I could feel myself becoming angry, not just angry, but livid, but I held it in check. Perhaps she had a really good reason for not wanting to do this.

“You suppose you are the trouble
But you are the cure
You suppose that you are the lock on the door
But you are the key that opens it
It’s too bad that you want to be someone else
You don’t see your own face, your own beauty
Yet, no face is more beautiful than yours.” ~ Rumi

“Mulberry Tree,” Vincent Van Gogh (1889)

This is what I got as an explanation: She just wasn’t ready. She needed more time to get her shit together (her words). She didn’t think that she could do it. She was really sorry to be disappointing everyone, but that’s how it was. Then she tried the guilt card:

I know that everyone is disappointed in me. I have an Oma who I never see, who calls me. I have a grandmother and grandfather who are both really ill. My best friend is dying. But I just can’t. (I’m summarizing here).

I lost it. I told her not to even attempt the guilt trip. I was the master of the guilt trip, and it wouldn’t work on me. If she was so damned concerned about her grandparents and her best friend, then why didn’t she do something about it?

She just couldn’t, you see. She wasn’t ready.

Okay, the conversation deteriorated badly at this point, but in my favor, I did not say all of the things that I was thinking. I did ask here if she knew when she might be ready, when she might have her shit together (my words). After all, it had been almost a year since she had worked, and all she was doing was sleeping. I might be wrong here, but I’m pretty sure that it’s darned near impossible to get a job when you don’t try—at all.

She just didn’t know. She was sorry. She knew that I was disappointed.

No. Truthfully, I wasn’t disappointed. I was shocked, and I was pissed. That was what I was. It ended pretty much with me saying that she should call me when and if she ever got her shit together. I told her that I loved her, and I hung up.

“. . .you and I together have gone down a single river with linked mouths filled with salt and blood . . .” ~ Pablo Neruda, Furies and Sorrows

“Vegetable Garden and Trees in Blossom, Spring, Pointoise,” Camille Pissarro (1877)

My entire body was shaking, truly. Trembling. Given all of the things that I had wanted to say, I think that I did fairly well. I didn’t want to say those horrible things that people say when they’ve lost control, when the argument has gotten away from them, and nothing but vitriol spews out, and then the words are out there, forever said, embedded in history, and no amount of apologizing will ever erase them.

I tried to process this. Corey and I talked and talked. Was I being too hard? Was I expecting too much? I mean, if anyone knows how paralyzing depression is, I do. I know that depression and anxiety can completely waylay an otherwise energetic person, and I know that those of us prone to wild mood swings (without medication) can be almost useless. So I try hard not to compare myself with Alexis as that isn’t fair; she is her own person with her own chemical imbalances. But geez, it’s as if she has absolutely no interest in helping herself. Her doctor prescribed her medicine that—when she takes it—really helps. But the key term here is taking it. She doesn’t. She doesn’t take the medicine even when someone else pays for it.

This is her logic: If she doesn’t wake up until 8 o’clock (PM not am), then it’s too late to take the medicine because she’ll be up all night. I suggested setting all 72 of her alarms (exaggeration, whatever) for 8 AM, wake up, take the medicine. No, no. That won’t work.

It feels as if I’m staring at one of those images, you know, the ones that look like a duck, but if you stare at it long enough, it’s really Albert Einstein. You get the point. I look at her, and I see my daughter, but the longer I look, the more she morphs into something unrecognizable.

“To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

“Chemin Fleuri,” Emile Claus (trans. Flowery Pathway)

One of the aspects that is so hard to bear is that I have always been my daughter’s biggest cheerleader, believing in her, encouraging her, telling her how much potential she has. In my own attempt to be my mother’s antithesis, I have gone to the other extreme with my children, writing them letters on special occasions in which I extol their virtues, urging but never pressuring them to try new things, to think about life as an adventure, and always to remember that we are not alone in this life, that many, many people help us to get where we need to go.

Yes, a bit smarmy, but it’s my own version of up-with-people for my offspring. But in the end, if she doesn’t believe in herself, in her own capabilities, then what I have to say doesn’t really matter.

So that’s the story. I called Ann and told her it was a no-go and summed up my daughter’s reasons for turning down the opportunity to help everyone, including herself. Since that big conversation, I have spoken with Alexis a few times, all but one time initiated by me. When her grandmother went in the hospital, I texted her but did not hear from her until the next day. So in the interest of keeping myself sane, I have compartmentalized, big time: There is all of the regular crap that makes up my day-to-day life, you know, bills, cut-off notices, more bills . . . and then there is the Alexis box.

This box is akin to Pandora’s box. If I open it, I have no idea what will fly out or how badly I will be hurt by it. So, for now at least, I’m keeping the lid on. Does this mean that I don’t care? Of course not. (I made the mistake of saying something along those lines to my mother, and she immediately went for the guilt juggler: How can you say that? What if something happened to her?) Does this mean that I wouldn’t help her if she asked? I’d be there in less than a heartbeat. But does the decision to leave the situation and her alone for now make me a bad person? Perhaps. Does this make me a horrible mother? Probably, but I honestly don’t know what else to do, so for now, I’ll do nothing, which grates against every Type A cell in my body.

Emotionally, I refuse to give up on her. I’ve already lost one daughter; I will not lose another. But for now, I have to step back and just suck it up. There isn’t a baby book in existence that has a chapter that covers the heartbreak your children can cause. No one wants to read about that aspect when life and the future seem so full of possibilities. If we knew all of the potential heartache in store when we thought about becoming parents, would we have done it anyway? Yes. Does that make us stupid? No, just human.

More later. Peace.

*I began this post at 1:35 in the afternoon. I finished writing it around 3. It is now 6:15, and I have spent the last three hours or so trying to take out weird coding and entering coding for borders around the images since the WP feature to do that doesn’t seem to be working. This is why posting lately has been so damned taxing . . . Update: It’s now 8:08. This post is still royally f-ed up. I am considering abandoning it in between my mother calling to say that the sky is falling (tornado warnings in the surrounding area), I’m losing track of the sections that have mysteriously disappeared . . . Spell check isn’t working, so apologies in advance.

Music by Jimmy Eat World, “Hear You Me”

                   

Going There

Of course it was a disaster.
The unbearable, dearest secret
has always been a disaster.
The danger when we try to leave.
Going over and over afterward
what we should have done
instead of what we did.
But for those short times
we seemed to be alive. Misled,
misused, lied to and cheated,
certainly. Still, for that
little while, we visited
our possible life.

~ Jack Gilbert

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“Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.” ~ Allen Ginsberg

“Open Door on a Garden,” Konstantin Somov (oil on canvas) 

  

“My trouble is insomnia. If I had always slept properly, I’d never have written a line.” ~ Louis-Ferdinand Céline
"Door Open onto the Garden," Pierre Bonnard (oil on canvas)

 I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with Cal lately—chills, aches, and lethargy—so I have not written a word in a week. A very long time for me, especially when the Internet is actually on. 

Everytime that I start to think that maybe I could actually go back to work, my body gives me a wake-up call, as in, “Have you lost your mind?” This past week, temperatures around here reached record highs. Meanwhile, I was walking around with goose bumps on my arms. A couple of nights ago, I woke myself when my body was shaking, which made the bed jerk. It’s all quite disconcerting. 

And then, of course, there is the insomnia, which makes just getting through the day a chore. One night it was nigh on 6 a.m. before sleep came. Last night, I was so grateful to be sleepy by 3 a.m. What a strange life I lead. 

“Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.” ~ Cecil Beaton
"30 Regent Terrace," Francis Campbell Cadell (1934)

Corey had to work today from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but it doesn’t really matter as we had no plans for mother’s day. Eamonn came by with flowers and a card. He can be such a sweetie when he wants to be. Alexis is supposed to come by later, so just a quiet day at home. 

Corey and I were married on mother’s day nine years ago. We didn’t really want to get married on a Sunday, but it was the only day that we could get the Women’s Club in Norfolk, which is an old Victorian home in the Ghent section of Norfolk. We were contemplating the Botanical Garden, but decided on the house so that we wouldn’t have to worry about the weather. I walked down the winding staircase in five-inch heels, and miraculously, I didn’t trip. 

But I digress . . . 

For the most part though, I have only had one request over the years when it concerns mother’s day: Please do not give me any appliances, as in a toaster or something of that sort. Just feels too domestic and traditional for my tastes. 

“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place . . . I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” ~ Elliott Erwitt
"Rooms by the Sea," Edward Hopper (1950)

This past week was a busy one for Brett. He is taking is IB exams in all of his classes. The better he does on these exams, the better the chance he has of getting college credits for the courses, which will be wonderful. He submitted his art portfolio to the IB board, but that takes a couple of months for review before he hears anything. It was a combination of sketches and photographs. I was duly impressed with the quality of his work. He has two more exams this week, and then he is pretty much finished except for a few odds and ends, so he will have a nice break before graduation. 

For his final project in art, Brett is going to paint something on one of the doors in the art room. He hasn’t told me what he plans to paint, but I can’t wait to see it. 

Tomorrow, Corey and I need to go back to the financial aid departments at ODU and TCC to complete the paper work for both boys to get tuition adjustments, which (we hope) will increase their Pell Grants. At least there is one good thing about being poor. 

“Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.” ~ René Magritte
"The Balcony Room," Adolph von Menzel (1845)

We watched a movie a few nights ago called “Haunting in Connecticut,” which is supposedly based on a true story. I hadn’t heard anything about the movie, but we were in the mood for something scary. Turns out, it’s pretty dark—dead bodies with words carved into them, some kind of ectoplasm and séances, lots of hallucinations. Of course, watching something like that before trying to go to sleep is probably not the best idea. 

Then last night, I was watching this program about women who kill. I think that I’ve seen it before. Anyway, three of the stories really got to me. Two of them involved young girls who got pregnant, hid their pregnancies from their families, then threw their babies in the trash. 

Anytime I read about something like this happening, it really upsets me in so many ways: That these girls felt that they could not go to their parents with the truth says a lot about the kind of pressure families put on their daughters. Like the article I just read that stated that most parents do not believe that their children are having sex; they believe that other people’s children are having sex, but not theirs. How utterly naive.  The kind of naiveté that causes people to be against birth control in favor of abstinence. 

Facts: Forty-six percent of all teens in the U.S. between 15 and 19 have had sex. A sexually active teen who does not use contraceptives has a 90 percent chance of becoming pregnant within a year. Eighty-two percent of teen pregnancies are unplanned; they account for about one-fifth of all unintended pregnancies annually. This is reality, folks. 

Sure abstinence is the goal. It’s just not the reality.  So these girls get pregnant but do not tell their families out of fear, out of shame, because they want to see the disappointment in their parents’ eyes, whatever the reason. The tragic part is that they choose to throw their babies away like trash in part because they have spent the last nine months convincing themselves that it isn’t real. 

“There is no explanation for evil. It must be looked upon as a necessary part of the order of the universe. To ignore it is childish, to bewail it senseless.” ~ William Somerset Maugham
"The Four Rooms," Vilhelm Hammershoi (1914, oil on canvas)

However, the story that still gets to me, that still rips my heart right from my chest is that of Susan Smith, the woman who drowned her two young sons, Michael and Alex. When the car was found, the two boys were still strapped into their car seats in the back seat of the car. Imagine for a moment what it must have felt like for those boys when the water began to come into the car, as they yelled for their mother, the woman who had to hear their screams. Imagine the fear and helplessness that had to overtake them as the minutes passed and the water kept rising. 

There is evil in this world. Of that, I have no doubts at all. Susan Smith killed her sons because she wanted to be free of them so that she could date the man who broke off their relationship, the man who said that he was not ready for children. So this mother, this monster decided that the best thing to do would be to kill her children and to blame it on an imaginary black man. 

In 1995, Smith was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. During her trial, she tried to use as a defense that her step-father had molested her and that she suffered from a lifetime of depression. Someone else’s fault. Of course. 

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” ~ Oscar Wilde
 Found on Wikimedia Commons (lost the title, sorry) 

Perhaps this was not the best issue to discuss on mother’s day. Or perhaps we need to be reminded that not all mothers are good and kind and loving. That some mothers care more about themselves than they do their children. That some mothers should never have had children. That some mothers, completely contrary to societal expectations, are filled with hate and resentment for the very children they bore. 

Fortunately, most mothers do not fall into the former category. Most mothers love their children with a fierce, protective love that no one can touch. 

I do not believe in perfection, but I do believe that some things and some people come very close to this ideal.  Motherhood, in its truest sense, is that continual strive to achieve perfection—saying the right words said at the right time, listening instead of lecturing, comforting with an embrace that bespeaks more than any words, accepting even when faced with a reality that is contrary to expectations. Motherhood is complex, tasking, and never easy. It is not for the weak hearted or the selfish. It is the only job in the world that expects you to know everything on day one. It is the only career that breeds anxiety and insecurity in continuous doses. 

When the door closes, and the child is on the other side, off to unknown places, it is the mother who remains behind and whispers to no one in particular, “It will be all right.” 

More later. Peace

Music by Jon McLaughlin, “We All Need Saving”